Upstage: Invercargill Festival of Cabaret – Michael Kuresa review

It should not come as a surprise that Michael Kuresa relished his time under the lights during his performance at the newly renamed and glammed-up Wikitoria venue.
True, this was a night of several firsts, and there were moments where the young Southland songwriter, singer and musician admitted he was blowing off some nerves, but he chose his gig wisely, in front of an audience of whanau, friends and supporters.
And it was a good gig, full of quality music and humorous banter, as well as fulsome thanks and praise for the people who helped him start his journey.
As he continues to develop his promising stagecraft while continuing to write sophisticated, soulful songs, it is clear he has all the attributes to make quite a name for himself nationally.
The room formerly known as Victoria at the Civic Theatre provided warm, intimate, comfortable, and somewhat stately surroundings for what had been billed as the launch of Kuresa’s new single, Currency.
Turns out that the track actually isn’t quite ready for release, but he played it live publicly with his awesome Invercargill band for the first time and it’s really good. Definitely a more commercial, pop-focused, radio-friendly song than his signature funk-jazz-r and b stylings, and quite possibly a hit yet to happen.
If it does land in the charts, it will be well-deserved recognition for a young Southland star on the rise.
Kuresa’s own classy compositions formed the basis of his 10-song setlist, with homage paid to his musical influences, who include Kiwi heavy hitters LAB and Six60, as well as international stars of the calibre of Grover Washington Jr and Bill Withers.
Kuresa’s band was a slightly stripped-down version of the lineup seen at his recent gigs, but no less impactful or tasteful. Kuresa himself led from the front on guitar, for the first time, showing a really strong right hand in his rhythm parts and even playing a few solos, also a first. No problem there.
Marcus Crowe on keyboards, Chris Hewton on bass and Jacob Hewton on drums providing killer support. The band was in the pocket, with a deep, fat, punchy rhythm section and some exceptional flourishes from Crowe on keys and backing vocals.
Kuresa’s vocals, as always, were rich and powerful. His control in the higher register is exquisite. He’s got quite a voice.
While the banter for obvious reasons was very family focused, no-one minded because as Kuresa pointed out “I think I know every single person in this room”.
With that support up close and personal he had them clapping along by his second song, the uplifting and funky Make It Last, and chanting “Hey! Ho!” by the fourth song, his yet-to-be-released single Still Thinking About You.
His debut single Across the Ocean also featured in the set, fleshed out by a handful of well-chosen covers that helped to illustrate the soulful groove that informs his musical lexicon.
This was a nice hometown celebration for Michael Kuresa, and a worthy addition to the inaugural Upstage Cabaret Festival, which features an appetising diet of music, theatre, comedy, and creativity.
The festival continues until Saturday 19 August. Savour the menu and secure tickets from Ticketek here.
Review by Chris Chilton – republished with permission.